Actress Cynthia Nixon, left, New York Rangers' Sean Avery, center, and Brian Ellner from Campaign for New York Marriage, right, talk with reporters after asking lawmakers to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
After a second day of a lobbying blitz and propelled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's personal buttonholing of GOP senators, a measure to legalize gay marriage in New York drew to within one vote of passing, with at least two more Republicans still undecided.
On Tuesday, a second Republican senator said he would support Cuomo's same-sex marriage bill, less than two years after he was part of a GOP-led defeat of a similar bill that dealt a blow to the national effort to legalize gay marriage.
Meanwhile, a federal judge upheld a gay judge's ruling that struck down California's same-sex marriage ban, saying his fellow jurist was under no obligation to disqualify himself simply because he was in a long-term relationship with another man.
In New York, Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga County announced he would vote for gay marriage, creating a 31-31 tie, resulting in no law. Thirty-two votes are needed to pass a bill in the 62-seat chamber. Several senators, however, still haven't committed to a vote that could happen Friday, what could be the final day of the legislative session.
"My vote is going to be for marriage," McDonald said. "I think it's compassion, trying do the right thing, trying to get everyone to live together."
"Our big state is big enough for everybody," he said.
When told McDonald would support gay marriage, Republican Sen. William Larkin of Orange County responded, "Shocking."
Fellow GOP Sens. Mark Grisanti of Erie County and Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie said they were undecided on the issue.
"It has nothing do with politics," Gristanti told The Buffalo News.
Said Saland, who voted against the measure in 2009: "My phone has been flying off the hook, both ways."
Saland said he knows of no other Republican senators planning to support same-sex marriage. But Cuomo, a Democrat, has met constantly with them, including an evening at the governor's mansion and in private meetings. Several Republicans described Cuomo's pitch as passionate and persuasive.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican who opposes gay marriage, said his conference will make a decision in a closed-door meeting, likely on Wednesday. If it does, he said a floor vote would likely be Friday.
"It's certainly closer, but nobody else has told me they are definitely going to vote for it," Skelos said.
The measure, for the fourth time in two years, is expected to easily pass in the Democrat-led Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver said he believes Cuomo has secured enough votes for passage in the Senate.
Each side of the gay-marriage debate in Albany is funded by more than $1 million from national and state advocates being used in media blitzes and in promised campaign cash for lawmakers who side with them. The effort, organized by Cuomo, drew three Democratic senators and one Republican, Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County, to the cause on Monday.
The sole Democratic senator opposed to the bill, the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, continues to drum up opposition, saying it's his calling.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan blogged Tuesday that approving gay marriage is akin to a communist country redefining other basic human rights.
"In those countries, government presumes to 'redefine' rights, relationships, values and natural law," Dolan said. He said "courageous" senators are facing a "stampede" of lobbying to change their votes. "But, please, not here! Our country's founding principles speak of rights given by God, not invented by government."
Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., but the effort has flagged since the defeat in New York. Opponents are bolstered by defeats of similar bills in Maryland and Rhode Island this year, and recent polls have shown New Yorkers slightly less supportive of gay marriage as the issue gained more attention this year.
"Hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers, like me, are treated like second-class citizens," said "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon in her latest lobbying in Albany. She said Tuesday she's been engaged to another woman for seven years but unable to marry in her home state.
"It's time we treat all committed couples equally," said Sean Avery, a New York Ranger and one of several professional athletes and celebrities who have pressed for gay marriage.
Cuomo said his bill is "roughly" the same as the one beaten back in 2009 in a Senate then led by Democrats. Republicans won a 32-30 majority in 2010.
The governor's bill doesn't include all the additional religious exemptions Republicans sought. Republicans want churches, religious groups and individuals opposed to gay marriage exempted from performing or hosting gay marriages.
"I think if the governor pays real respect to the need for religious carve-outs and builds that into this bill, creating a clear definition between civil marriage and religious marriage, it's going to take the wind out of the sales of people like Jason McGuire who are against the bill," Republican Sen. Greg Ball said.
McGuire, an Elmira pastor and president of the New Yorkers Family Research Foundation, says gay marriage damages children.
Other clergy disagree.
"Our faith traditions teach us that all people are children of God, deserving of love, dignity and equal treatment," said the Rev. Tom Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, a group of 734 clergy and lay leaders.
A Siena College poll Monday found 55 percent of New Yorkers support gay marriage, a decline from 58 percent in April. Just 14 percent of New Yorkers said gay marriage should be the top priority of the Legislature. The poll questioned 819 registered voters June 5-8 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.